Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Exploring the Greatest Food City in the World
I'd been mapping restaurants I wanted to try in Tokyo long before I actually booked a flight to Tokyo. There was no city in this world more intriguing to me. This goes as far back to my youth when I'd see it in movies and stuff like that. I didn't develop a love for Japanese cuisine until maybe about a decade ago. The funny thing is I don't know what triggered it but it's right behind Mexican food in my personal favorites. So boring story short I'd been waiting for the day I got to visit Tokyo for what felt like a lifetime. Despite traveling to many other spots before Tokyo I was always a bit intimidated and kept telling myself I should hold off on it until a later date. That was a mistake in a lot of ways. If you've never been to Tokyo I suggest you stop waiting like I was doing. I cant promise it'll be your favorite city in the world but I promise it'll be one of the most interesting. Just don't go there thinking you're going to see some old school Japanese buildings and such. It's as developed as NYC and most all of the city feels new in so many ways. That said there isn't a city with more to explore. It would take more than a lifetime. There's a reason why so many people travel there for fun on a regular basis.
Sights from Tokyo (click pics to enhance)
I'm guessing if you're reading this post you have a high interest in food and if so there isn't a more overwhelming food city anywhere. I mean this in a good way. Tokyo is said to have more than 165,000 restaurants total. To give you an idea of how many that is there are 40,000 in Paris and 25,000 in New York City. There's literally ten story buildings with 60+ tenants all of which are bars and restaurants. As far as Michelin Stars go Tokyo has 308 total while second place Paris has 141 total. But here's the thing lots of people who've never been to Tokyo don't know. It's actually not that expensive. Not compared to say Paris, NYC, LA, London etc. It can certainly be expensive especially a three starred sushi dinner but odds of you getting a reservation at that 3 star sushi spot are slim to none. That said you cam still eat amazing food in a variety of ways for a very reasonable price. Two personal notes from my trip. We only had one reservation before getting to Tokyo and I got it through an old friend who's from there and now lives in NYC. He was able to secure me a sushi reservation bc he knew the owner of a small pretty well known spot especially amongst locals. Only thing I had to promise him was that I wouldn't take pictures as the chef doesn't care for people doing so. So it goes but with that said the only way for a tourist to get in is to know a local who will vouch for you. That said I do recommend getting s reservation to at least one spot. A follower rec'd to me this informative chat site called 'The Sushi Geeks
' and it's a great resource for sushi in Japan especially in Tokyo.
Sights from Tokyo
If you're a first time visitor to Tokyo I suggest doing some planning as far as food but it doesn't need to include a ton of reservations. Some hotels will make them for you others will not, and then some will make them for you but only upon your arrival. There's many reasons for this but the biggest one is some spots just don't take reservations from hotels bc they don't need to. In a city of close to 15 million there's plenty of local longtime customers. Paired with the fact many of the restaurants in Tokyo are small and thus only sit a limited number of people this means there's already a high demand for that seat even before the tourists find out about it. So I suggest picking a spot for lunch each day and arriving there right around the opening time. People will get in line in Tokyo but for the most part those lines move pretty fast. But you can usually avoid them by showing up right before they open. If there's people getting in line somewhere 2-3 hours before a spot opens I just suggest going somewhere else. Not to say that spot wouldn't be good but there's a lot of good to be found.
Sights from Tokyo
As always I'll leave my loyal readers with free access to my google maps guide for Tokyo. Feel free to use it to help you find spots you want to eat at. Along with that I suggest getting familiar with some of the experts as far as food in Tokyo goes. Or the English speaking ones anyway. I need to give a big thanks to Yukari Sakamoto
who authored 'Food Sake Tokyo' which is an essential read for anyone looking to learn about Tokyo's second to none food and the people and restaurants behind it. She's also a great follow on social media where she shares all sorts of tips which when paired with the spots featured in her book is really all you need as far as a food guide for Tokyo goes. Follow her
. I also found Robbie Swinnerton's reviews in the Japan Times
to be super helpful. Then there's all the wonderful social media accounts and bloggers (mainly Ramenheads). They include @tokyofoodmap
, and a few others I'm probably forgetting. You should also get familiar with Time Out Tokyo and Tabelog. Here's an Eater article
with more info on the latter. Lastly there were a few people who follow me on social media that reached out and sent me suggestions of all sorts and not just food related. They know who they are and I cant thank them enough. I'll do my best to pass their info onto others through this post.
Sights from Tokyo
We stayed at the Mitsui Garden Gochome which is at the border of Ginza and Tsukiji. I liked this location bc for a first time visitor I thought it was a great area to stay. Ginza is kind of like the Gold Coast here in Chicago except the food is much, much better and it's not all expensive ass sushi spots. There's plenty of mom and pop places where they've been specializing in this or that for a few generations. Also since Tokyo isn't an early morning city it's nice being near the Tsukiji Outer Market area which is the neighborhood that used to house the city (and the worlds) largest fish market. The market has moved on to Disney-esque surroundings so I was told. But the neighborhood lives on and many specialty shops, vendors, and restaurants are still there doing their thing. Most of them open early in the morning. So it gave me something to see and eat while waiting for the rest of the city to open up. Tokyo is large and spread out in size. But the trains make most everything in reach. Also for being one of the most populated cities in the world it sure is clean and in a lot of ways quiet.
Sights from Tsukiji
I would've needed to been there more than a year just to get to all the spots I had on my hit list. But we ended up having six nights after our flight was canceled until the next day on what was supposed to be our last morning. So I got to eat plenty but still feel like I missed out on even more. I suggest making it a point to visit at least one ramen shop a day if not more than that. I didn't think I loved ramen until I started slurping some of the bowls in Tokyo. It's the best way to experience chef quality food and ingredients for something like $10-$12 US. The ramen there is actually cheaper than it is in places like NYC and San Francisco. Plus the options as far as different types are endless. Ramen is the one Japanese food that has no rules. As far as tradition goes there's plenty of old school bowls but there's also a crazy number of spots doing things no one else is doing. Some people plan trips to Tokyo just to eat ramen and I cant say that's a bad move but there's also so much more. As good as the fresh fish is you may be surprised by how wonderful the chicken, pork, beef are too. In fact I found all three to be even more eye opening than the seafood. Find spots that are focusing in on one of them in a certain way and go eat there. Be it a tempura specialist, yakitori grillmaster, ramen scientist, kakigori creator, whatever. Just make sure you experience some of the city's many masters of their crafts. To me there is no better food city in the world as it leaves you wanting more.
Sights from Tokyo
Just a few more things before I give you the food in all it's glory. I didn't get a chance to snap many pics at the food halls, antenna stores, or the convenience stores. But all three are worth experiencing if you can squeeze them in. Note: It wouldn't be crazy to go to just Tokyo for a week or even a month. The food halls are these massive layouts of food in every which way that are located at most of the city's enormous department stores. They're department stores of food within department stores of clothes and cosmetics and all that. The antenna stores are shops where they sell food and gifts and whatever else is popular in specific prefectures in Japan. So for example I went to the Okinawa Antenna Store in Ginza and they had all sorts of Okinawan products like hot sauce, beer, chips, and so much more including an aisle for ingredients needed to make taco rice. Look it up if you don't know. Not just that but most of these spots make regional food on site so they're restaurants too. I enjoyed hot from the fryer Okinawan donuts which are my new sweets crush. Then there's the convenience stores. The big three being 7-11, Family Mart, Lawson's. They're nothing like the convenience stores in the States. Many of them double as restaurants too as they have little dining areas for customers to eat options like Japanese sandos, oden, and blobs of fried chicken. I tried the fried chix from all three and none of them were bad. The sandwiches were great on the plane home.
Sights from Tokyo
Mugi to Olive
Ginza Noodles aka Mugi to Olive was the winner for spot on my list
closest to the hotel. Which means I was able to cross it off right
away. The beloved broth here is made from a blend of noboshi, clams, and
chicken. But what sets it apart is a little bowl of olive oil you use to
season the noodles when the broth is running low. This transforms the
bowl to something completely different. Almost Italian in taste. The
noodles are firm but chewy giving off the same texture as toothsome
pasta. Best bowl of ramen I’ve had. Ever. Though that could change in an
instant this week. So keep reading!
Ramen at Ginza Ramen aka Mugi to Olive
Another spot that was close and soon to close for the day was Ginza Ginger. So I made sure to squeeze them in for my very first kakigori experience in Japan. This was maybe what I looked forward to most believe it or not. I had heard very good things about this Japanese Shaved ice treat that is especially big in Tokyo. Ginza Ginger is a store that sells all sorts of ginger related goods such as can syrups and candy. They have a cafe upstairs where they sell kakigori. It was here where we learned that most spots in Japan will make you order something if you sit down. No sharing one Kakigori between two people. Not here anyway. So I ended up eating this ginger orange and cream dish all by myself. I wouldn't have it any other way. It was as good as I thought it was going to be.
Kakigori at Ginza Ginger
Yakitori or Japanese charcoal grilled chicken
skewers. Most likely a top 5 all time dish on my list. So of course I tried to
eat my weights worth while here. When done right they will make you
moan. I guess I wouldn't say skip the thigh, breast etc and go straight for the odd parts but make sure you get the good stuff too.
Pictured below are neck > cartilage > skin. Unfortunately they didn’t
have my favorite part (oyster) but these were still as good as I’d
had. From a small Tokyo chain nonetheless. I knew it was going to be
great when we entered to a layer of smoke lingering below the ceiling.
Yakitori at Toriyoshi
I has this Ginza Tsukemen specialist on my radar and just so happened to walk by the first night. I hopped in line and was placing my order at the machine after about 10 minutes. The owner helped me choose the house special Tsukemen which is a special type of ramen where the noodles are dipped into a potent broth. Oborodzuki draws rave reviews for it's seafood dominated broth which is light brown and muddy from all the flavors extracted into one tiny little bowl. Not only is there a variety of fish but also pork and other homestyle ingredients. All spots have their own little recipe. The noodles are served cold and the broth is hot but it does cool down fast and when it does I'm not a big fan of it. That said this was the first Tsukemen that I actually enjoyed. The noodles were nice and chewy and the dipping broth wasn't too heavily dominated by pork flavors. The pork itself was well cooked too.
Tsukemen at Oborodzuki
This little mom and pop tempura shop was near the top of my hit list. Why is that you ask? Conger Eel Tempura Bowl with Shredded Shiso. That's the house
special at this hyper local restaurant in a Chiyoda building basement.
Note: you take an elevator down the stairs (or walk). This was an incredible experience dining alongside Salaryman all of whom seemed to
be regulars. Owned by an older husband and wife team who make the
tempura together behind a sushi counter setup. Just watching their
motions you can tell this isn’t just drop it in the fryer and remove
when ready type stuff. They move the tempura tongs back and forth with
the grace of what I imagine Sesshū Tōyō had with a paintbrush. Roasted
seaweed and toasted sesame seeds are also mixed in with the rice. WOW.
Shrimp Tempura Bento (Hers)
Conger Eel Tempura Bento (His)
More Ginza ramen. This time at Kazami. They
definitely fall into the gourmet category that’s taken Tokyo by storm
over the years. I sought this one out bc it was super unique. So I was
told the bowl to order here is the sake kasu noko soba. It’s made with
sake lees which is a byproduct of sake production. Often times discarded
these guys decided to make a thick greenish broth out of it. Not all
that different from miso actually. The noodles were top notch, they all are out there. I also enjoyed the pieces of grilled and buttered bread in the bowl. So nice having options other than just tonkotsu.
Sake Lees Ramen at Ginza Kazami
I was excited to get some Anmitsu at the shop credited with creating the dish
some 100+ years ago. I wasn’t too familiar with Asian desserts until
some of the now popular spots started opening in Chicago. Then I binged
watched ‘Kantaro: The Sweet Toothed Salaryman’ on Netflix
and became very familiar with some of the Japanese favorites. So I’ve
been waiting for the day I got to try this dish that was the focus of
S01 E01. It’s made with small cubes of agar jelly, a white translucent
jelly made from red algae. The agar is dissolved with juice to make the
jelly. Served with sweet azuki bean paste or anko (the an part of
anmitsu) and often gyūhi and a variety of fruits such as peach slices,
mikan, pieces of pineapples, and cherries. It usually comes with a small
pot of sweet black syrup, or mitsu (the mitsu part of anmitsu) which
one pours into the bowl before eating. It was just me and about 10 older ladies
on my visit (including those in the kitchen) which was no coincidence
as anmitsu is a favorite of Japanese grandmas everywhere. I scarfed this down in like 2 mins. So amazingly good.
Anmitsu at Ginza Wakamatsu
I had a nice list of izakayas I was hoping to hit. Most of them endorsed by social media people that live in and post food from Tokyo. One that caught my eye was Gonnosuke Flat in the Meguro neighborhood. Not only did the pics of it look great but Adrian B. @TokyoFoodMap
laid out exactly what to order for his readers. I had the hotel call us in a reservation just in case it would be busy later that night. It wasn't packed but always try for a day of reservation at izakayas as most of them do get packed and thus booked for the night more times than not. I didn't get to a few I wanted to bc of this. That said we liked what we got at Gonnosuke Flat. First up they go the extra mile for instagram when it comes to their Lemon Highballs as you can see below. Next up was an order of potato salad. The Japanese make the best potato salad especially in izakayas. All recipes differ but they all seem to be really good. Crab Gratin served with dipping bread was rich and deep in crab flavors. The star of the show so I was told is the miso cod. This is both a simple and classic Japanese dish. Loved for the fact when done right like at Gonnosuke Flat it tastes just like butter. An overall satisfying meal.
Izakaya Eats at Gonnosuke Flat
Yasubei of Ebisu
The Ebisu neighborhood was my favorite area of Tokyo. It wasn't too touristy and instead filled mostly with younger working class locals as well as lots of restaurants. One spot you do not want to miss in the area is Yasubei of Ebisu. This late nite izakaya has a small menu with the focal point being their out of this world gyoza dumplings. Originally from the Kochi prefecture they started as a food stall there in the early 70's. The gyoza became so popular they eventually opened a bar where they sold them and then a satellite location in Tokyo after that. I read people will line up for hours to eat these. Sometimes from the time the doors open at 5:30 p.m. until they close at 1:30a. I got lucky bc I was solo (wife went to a bar near there) and thus got a seat within ten minutes. I knew they were going to be good when I overheard a Tokyo local who now lives in San Fran telling her friend she'd kill her if she blew this spot up on social media. She seemed pretty serious. I started with one order of the famous gyoza with skin
so thin it shatters in your mouth releasing an almost soupy delicious pork filling. The crisp wrappers are a product of the
shop’s flash-frying technique. I guess they steam them first and then flash fry them in a pan (from what I saw). I have reached the peak of Gyoza Mountain. It's all downhill from here. Some of the best dumplings anywhere. I should've got a fourth order.
Gyoza at Yasubei of Ebisu
As I've mentioned before early morning breakfast isn't big in Japan. Most spots open at 11a or later. I did find this cool article
in the Japan Times about enjoying noodles for breakfast in Tokyo. As it turned out one of the locations for Oniyanma was a 15 min walk from our hotel. Oniyanma Shimbashi is a no frills udon shack where you pay the machine outside and then hand your ticket to the guys at the open air kitchen who then get to work on your bowl. A local helped me find the button I wanted on the machine. Chikuwa is a popular form of udon. Chikuwa being a tempura cured stick of fish. I loved this and thought it was basically like a high class fish stick. My bowl also had a piece of fried chicken aka Karaage in it. That too was fantastic. It's standing room only inside and each table has a big bucket of tempura flakes collected from the fryer and saved for slurpers to add some extra crunch to their bowls. This was legit one of the most satisfying breakfasts of my life. Tempura udon all day baby.
Chikuwa + Karaage Udon at Oniyanma Shimbashi
It was time for some lunch after shopping through the alleyways of Harajuku. The area is filled with hip clothing shops and by extension hip noodle shops like Menchirashi. We arrived to a line of mostly younger groups of locals and a few tourists like us. They had just opened at the beginning of the year and were reviewed favorably by Robbie Swinnerton of the Japan Times. He describes the udon at Men Chirashi as nothing like that of "your country cousin’s noodle counter" and he calls the udon here the "real deal". It's made in an open air kitchen where diners can sit overlooking the operation which is a very smooth run at the time being run by just a few people. It was pretty hot in the sun so I decided to go with a bowl of Bukkake Udon after I was told they weren't making yaki-udon (fried noodles) that day. Bukkake Udon is served cold. Both the noodles and the broth are meant to freshen you up on a hot summer day. The broth is usually soy based and most always has some dashi in it as well. It's grated with ginger and daikon and topped with sliced green onions. A totally slurp worthy bowl. But the biggest draw here might be their Udon Carbonara which is exactly what you're thinking. Hot Udon noodles tossed in carbonara ingredients. Fusion food at it's finest. As good as both bowls of udon were we found ourselves head over heels for their tempura. Specifically the squid. The tempura in Japan is next level. Even the standard stuff. We left with a bottle of their house hot sauce which paired great with the fried squid. If you're in the area this is a hip and fun spot for lunch.
Bukakke Udon, Udon Carbonara, Tempura Squid and Shrimp at Menchirasi
Every time I'm overseas there end up being a ton of spots I find on a whim. This little convenience store looking spot was around the corner from our hotel and when I passed it the previous day there was a line of Salarymen outside. The next day I walked by right when they seemed to have opened as the lines started forming after my order. That of which was a ham katsu sandwich. I know bc they had a large fryer in back where the old man was dropping what looked like little squares of breaded tenderloins or fried chicken for sandwiches. But inside was a few slices of ham. This is a pretty simple sandwich as it's served on crustless white bread and drizzled with tonkatsu sauce which is dark and fruity condiment popular with fried items in Japan. I forget the exact cost of this sandwich but it was less than $3us and better than any other sandwich I've ever had at that price point. They must put something money in the frying oil. This place wont be there forever. So go while you can.
Ham Katsu Sando at Choushiya
The number one thing I wanted to make sure I did as far as food goes was yakitori. So that means it was the most important thing period. We got to some good spots but boy did I luck out when I saw there were reservations to Toritama Hankan available through google. The only time they had was 5:30 which is when they open but nonetheless I took it. That was an easy choice after reading Robbie Swinnerton's review in the Japan Times
. Then we got there and they were confused when I told them I had a reservation through google. So that was weird in that I dont know if they were supposed to be on google or what. Anyway they said we could stay but would have to leave by 7p when they would be fully booked. Yeah no problem. Though Toritama is a local chain with three locations each one is different. The grillmaster at this location under an expressway was an absolute pro. He was older and thus I imagine he's been grilling chicken parts for a long, long time. He didn't speak English but you could tell he was happy to have us through his big smile. The younger host was able to help us out.
Yakitori at Toritama Hankan
The reason Toritama seemed like such a good choice, aside from the great review, was the fact they offer close to thirty skewers of chicken. This means they have all the good stuff as far as parts. Not only did they have all the ones we love such as oyster, neck, skin, spleen, tail (female and male), and more. Then there was the chōchin aka “lantern” which was unlike any yakitori I've had before. To quote Robbie Swinnerton this is "the poetic name for the yolk of an unlaid egg before the eggshell has formed. Grilled in its membrane, and served with the tube of the birth canal, it is rich, creamy and memorable (pictured directly above this paragraph)." By the end of the meal we had eaten as much skewers as we could and we didn't split any of them. I think there were seven drinks total on the bill too. It all came out to something like $106US for what was maybe the best meal of the year. Certainly the most memorable in Japan. Like I said as good as the fish is the meats are just as good.
Yakitori at Toritama Hankan
After some beers in the rowdy Roppongi neighborhood I headed over to this nighttime kakigori spot. Is this heaven? Kakigori Yelo sits like a bar and stays open like one too (until 5a). They have a special nighttime menu where the shaved ice includes alcohol. Seen below is the strawberry with rum. Wow. This was actually really good in the same way a classic supper club grasshopper can be. The fresh strawberry syrup paired with rum and cream makes for a great combo. Go here for some icy fun.
Adult Kakigori at Yelo
I had handfuls of popular tendon shops I wanted to try. Tendon being the term for shrimp tempura bowl made with fried shrimps sitting on top of white rice and sometimes spots will pour a sauce on top of it all. The famous ‘Black Tendon’ at Tempura Nakayama in
Tokyo was commonly mentioned among the city's best. Made so from a thick black Tentsuyu (tempura sauce) that’s poured
over the fried shrimp, fish, and vegetables. It then seeps into the
rice making it a donburi fit for a movie star. This place is popular
with quite a few Japanese celebrities as well as the common man like
Black Tendon at Tempura Nakayama
Chuuka Soba Manchiken
When you get tipped off about a spot selling Foie Gras Mazemen you make sure you go. I repeat FOIE GRAS MAZEMEN. You know what foie gras is. Mazemen is basically a brothless ramen. Well at Chuuka Soba Manchiken they make a mazemen with the option to add as many pieces of pan seared foie gras as you want and it's only like $3us for each piece. The total for a bowl with two pieces of fresh seared foie gras was just $13us or something close to that. While they have a duck based broth the foie gras would just melt away in that and thus the brothless Abura Soba noodles are where it's at. On top of the perfectly seared piece of duck liver you also get slices of duck and what one of the ramen blogs calls "duck cubes" which are basically like pork belly in that they're fatty and with some skin. Grated citrus + radish, green onions, soft boiled egg, and a sheet of nori also top the wonderful noodles which sit over a little puddle of oil. Mix it all together for a memorable meal.
Foie Gras Mazemen at Chuuka Soba Manchiken
The Kakigori out there was everything I hoped it
would be and then some. As someone who grew up on fruity ice (Italian
Ice) I cant get enough. Kakigori is the King of all Kings when it comes
fruity icy treats. Though it’s actually preferred by Queens. I remember
reading somewhere that 80% of customers in these specialty shops are
women. That number was even higher on our visit to Himitsudo in the Old
Town Tokyo neighborhood of Yanaka. This neighborhood favorite had a full
house with about 25 ladies and then me, a Salaryman, and a two year old
with his mom. What sets kakigori apart from say Shave Ice (a direct
descendant) is first and foremost the syrup. Freshly made is standard
and you can expect lots of interesting options. But like I said I like
them fruity and so both the strawberry with milk and the orange with
milk were ordered. This spot is a national treasure.
Strawberry Kakigori at Himitsudo
Orange Kakigori at Himitsudo
I had quite a few must do's by which I mean must eats. A tonkatsu lunch and or dinner was near the top. Tonkatsu is the Japanese version of a breaded pork tenderloin or wienerschnitzel. It's Yoshoku food and almost always served the same way in that a piece of pork is breaded with panko crumbs and fried and then sliced into pieces and served with shredded cabbage, tonkatsu sauce, lemon, and white rice. I kind of stumbled upon Tonkatsu Taiho after I noticed a line at the spot next to Gonnosuke Flat the previous night. It was all locals so I looked up Taiho which had great scores on Tabelog and Google. I decided to go over the next day and I'm really glad I did. I got the Special Loin Tonkatsu and when I tell you this was the best pork, no fuck that
the best fried anything I ever had in my life, so you better believe it
was otherworldly. The pork was as juicy as it gets, and the panko is made in-house. Dishes like this are why eating will never be the same after a trip to Japan. I should've ate Katsu twice.
Tonkatsu Dinner at Tonkatsu Taiho
Speaking of Yoshoku food I had to try while in Tokyo omurice was another one. The Japanese fried rice omelette is a favorite of just about anyone who's tried one. This is a dish that tends to bring good memories to the Japanese most of whom enjoyed omurice as a kid. Sometimes the fried rice wrapped omelette is topped with ketchup and other times with a dark drown demi glace. Every Tokyo local has a favorite spot for this dish which was created here at the turn of the 20th century. I had my eyes set solely on Chamorro which is a spot in Ebisu / Shibuya known for their gyutan (beef tongue) omurice. I was dreaming about this dish before I even had plans to go to Tokyo. The tongue was so tender you could cut through it with a
chopstick. Hard to
imagine a better than this.
Lengua Omurice at Chamorro
I know it's trendy or cool to tell tourists not to eat fish at Tsukiji Market and what not. Whatever. I love the one dish specialists and Segawa seemed like my type of spot in that they only sell one thing. Their specialty is tuna donbori and you can get it a few ways which basically comes down to how much tuna you want. I think I chose the middle one as there was no English spoken by the older ladies who run this tiny six seat sidewalk stall. I had to snap the picture of my tuna bowl incognito as there's no cameras allowed according to a sign on the back wall. Nothing intimidates me quite like a pissed off Asian grandma. Wow was this what I wanted and then some. Mistake by me waiting until the last day to get it as it would've made for a great way to start the day each morning in Tokyo.
Tuna Belly Donburi at Segawa
As much fresh seafood as they have on offer in outer Tsukiji this gyudon specialist is still the most popular spot there. Gyudon is a beef rice bowl that's popular throughout Japan. Kitsuneya also offers a very popular old school Japanese dish called Horumon-don. It's an offal donburi made from beef organs that are rubbed with miso and left to stew in a pot on display for a long time. The miso takes away any bad flavors of the beef organ meat. If you're not feeling like an organ based breakfast you can get the Gyudon which is just as popular. It's a big bowl of white rice topped with delicious tender braised beef and onions. So simple but I promise it's near impossible to recreate it this good at home.
Gyudon at Kitsuneya
Wontonmen was the one ramen style I knew I had to have
as it contains two of my favorite things - noodles and dumplings. We
took the train down to the less traveled Meguro neighborhood for a
bowl. Yakumo has a modern setup where they serve an old school bowl of ramen.
This is one of the more Chinese bowls of ramen one can find which is
cool bc ramen is Chinese in origin (pretty much all Asian food derived
from China one way or the other). I’m no expert like so many other
Ramenheads but I enjoyed this bowl immensely. Nothing over the
top just good old fashioned noodles and dumplings sitting in a slurp
worthy broth with extra tender chasu (pork slices). Most all ramen shops
make you pay at a machine which usually has descriptions in Japanese.
When in doubt just ask for help or push the button in the upper left
corner as that’s where the signature bowl is usually posted. Here the
upper left button gets you this beautiful bowl of light shoyu broth with
three lovely wonton each of pork and shrimp. Perfection in the form of a bowl of noodles with broth. Man I love Japan.
Wontonmen at Yakumo
After walking around the Meguro 'hood on a beautiful Saturday we made our way over to 和kitchenかんな for Kakigori. According to my notes in my google maps guide they source their water from Nikko. The owner? maybe manager? was really surprised we found them. Like I said earlier the Meguro neighborhood is a little less traveled by tourists. He was very happy to have us. The signature ice here or one of them anyway is purple yam aka Ube. It was so good. The ice itself is shaved thin and soft at all these kakigori spots visited. So it's the syrup creations that can help a spot stand out. When the ice starts melting and you're about halfway done it sometimes takes on the taste of ice cream which was the case with the Ube. She got the classic strawberry in a welcomed smaller size.
Kakigori at 和kitchenかんな
I was all about taking in as many food experiences as I could. A trip for dinner to a standing izakaya was one of them I got to complete. Ginza Shimada had good reviews for their food which seemed to be a bit more chef driven than the typical standing izakaya. That of which is a bar where locals stand and eat and drink. Both the people behind the bar at Shimada and also the regulars were very welcoming despite the fact there was a bit of a language barrier between us and them. We were able to order by pointing to other plates people were eating and also from pictures posted to google. We had really fresh shrimp sashimi followed up with a vibrant mushroom salad, crab croquettes, seared sashimi, and grilled anago eel. This place kind of reminded me of the pinxto bars in San Sebastian.
Dinner at Ginza Shimada
What came first the chicken or the egg? Who cares
as long as soy sauce, dashi, onions, and white rice are also involved.
Oyakodon is maybe the perfect dish to describe what Japanese food is. It sounds simple and it is that and also subtle. Yet when it’s elements are
combined into one of the country’s most popular donburi (rice bowl)
it’s anything but boring. I wasn't even sure what the English name of this specialist shop was until an insta follower translated it for me. What I am sure of now is that Marukatsu is worth seeking out. Located on
the 2nd floor of a Ginza building and ordered through a machine this was the best
breakfast I had all trip. Going to start attempting to perfect it at home.
Oyakodon at Marukatsu
Kamo To Negi
Last stop on our Tokyo Ramen Tour might have been
the best of a very strong bunch. Kamo To Negi is quite simply a must for
anyone going to Tokyo. It’s true that this city can cost a ton as far
as food but it’s also true that it’s one of the best cities to eat
Michelin quality food in the likes of approachable ramen shacks like
this. I don’t think they have a star but they prob should bc this quite
simple bowl was something special. They only use duck, water, and negi
(green onion) to make the broth. It’s then spiced with a special blend
of locally secured soy sauce from around Japan. The result is one of the
most lip sticking delicious sips I took on this trip. I can’t believe
how good both the broth and the glistening duck chasu were in this bowl.
As if that wasn’t enough each diner chooses from side options which
always include your choice of a small bowl of toro taku chirashi (similar
to negitoro) or the house special oyakodon made with duck meat (BIG
YES). Then you choose how you want your green onions and leeks which on
this day was Tempura style. All of this was something like $11 US for a
memorable meal. Who says Tokyo is expensive? Sushi Omakase can def add
up but odds of getting reservations to many of them are slim to none. If
you want to eat Tokyo like a local you need to be hitting up the ramen
spots like this. The chefs here are every bit as into their product
in the same way guys like Jiro are into theirs. It’s what sets Japan
apart from other spots. The dedication to perfecting one dish is the
best thing going in the culinary world. Nothing is the same after visiting.
Duck Ramen (and Duck Oyakodon) at Kamo to Negi
One more stop for some gyoza that was calling my name. This little spot specializes in Kobe style gyoza and it’s worth
seeking out. I tried an order of traditional (pork / garlic) as well as
their signature Italian style gyoza made with pork, garlic, and Italian
seasoning and served with olive oil, and sea salt for dipping. Damn did
it work. These gyoza manage to get extra crispy by having more wrapper
than filling but at about 420 yen per order ($4) and eight to an order
they’re more than worth it. The only question is how many rounds paired with
an ice cold beer are you good for? I did three rounds worth.
Kobe Style Gyoza at Kobe Gyoza
Last stop on Tokyo’s Yoshoku trail (and Tokyo). This one was
unplanned as I headed down into the bowels of a Ginza Department Store.
Big crowd at Tsubame Grill which is advertised as German (the sausage
was popular with locals) but is more Japanese and German fusion. The
Hamburg steak (Hambagu) was another western dish I wanted to try. It’s
history starts in Hamburg but basically lives on in Japan where every
western spot serves their own version. The premise of each being a beef
and pork mixture held together with bread crumbs, eggs, and seasoning
and formed into a patty and cooked. Tsubame Grill (Since 1930) serves
theirs with grilled onions, Japanese hot mustard, soy sauce, baked
potato with Japanese greens, and a fat pile of shredded daikon on top.
Honestly better than a lot of steaks I’ve had over the years. But I’m a
sucker for food served on a hot sizzling platter.
Japanese Hamburg at Tsubame Grill
for my report from Osaka
Note: To find the locations of all the spots featured in this post, as well as places I didn't make it to, please click HERE
for my google maps guide to Tokyo.
(check the videos on my instagram stories for more footage from Tokyo)